08/17/2001 12:00AM

B Flat Major does nonagenarian proud

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Better late than never could be the motto of Pennsylvania horseman Truman C. Welling. At 93, Welling is represented as a breeder by one of the best Pennsylvania-breds in current competition: B Flat Major.

A 6-year-old gelding by Private Terms, B Flat Major is most famously associated with trainer Scott Lake, who coaxed him up from the claiming ranks and has sent him out to win a total of four stakes. But he's also beginning to bring some well-deserved recognition to Welling, who has been in the breeding and racing business for some 30 years with his 355-acre Scarlett Thicket Farm near Kennett Square, Pa.

Health problems keep Welling from enjoying B Flat Major's accomplishments as much as he once would have. Still, B Flat Major - sold by Welling for $100,000 at the 1996 Keeneland September sale - fills an important gap for his breeder.

Welling, who retired at age 60 as a top executive in the sales division of the Du Pont textile firm, had done just about everything he sought to do in life, except produce a standout racehorse.

B Flat Major became Welling's breakout horse back in 1997, when he won the Pennsylvania Futurity over an extraordinarily talented field that included multiple stakes winner Power by Far and With Anticipation, winner of this year's Grade 1 Sword Dancer Handicap.

Campaigned early in his career by Joe Allbritton's Lazy Lane Farm and trainer Graham Motion, B Flat Major descended into the claiming ranks, then resurfaced as a claiming-class hero last season, when he won 5 of 8 starts, including the $125,000 Claiming Crown Jewel Stakes at Canterbury Park and the Jewel Stakes at Philadelphia Park.

Lake lost B Flat Major in a $75,000 claiming race at Delaware Park last October, and took him back for a $62,500 claiming tag in May. Slightly more than a month after rejoining Lake's stable, B Flat Major won his first unrestricted stakes race, Delaware's Shecky Greene Handicap on July 3. He came right back for a second consecutive stakes score in the Iroquois Handicap against Pennsylvania-breds on July 28, and now boasts career earnings of $410,474.

Welling, who played an instrumental role in the launching of the Pennsylvania Breeding Fund in the mid-1970's, has celebrated earlier successes with stakes-placed Tudor M'lle., Charlotte Square, Mrs. Proudie, and 1998 champion Pennsylvania-bred 2-year-old filly Dam I'm Gorgeous. He bred B Flat Major from the Topsider mare Sichana, who is one of eight mares currently in residence at Scarlett Thicket Farm. Sichana is in foal for 2002 to Two Punch, according to Welling's son, Peter, who is carrying on the horse operation with the help of longtime farm manager Dick Southard.

Welling's full past performance line would fill an entire page. He is a friend of presidents - Gerald A. Ford, whom he met as a fellow officer during World War II on the aircraft carrier Monterey, served as best man at his wedding. And, in his youth, Welling was a superb athlete who played basketball during his years at the College of William and Mary, and later skied across Canada.

His career at Du Pont was a monument to both timing and talent, as explained by Peter Welling, who said his father "essentially rode the crest of the synthetic revolution - orlon, nylon, dacron."

Welling and his wife, Elise, whose marriage spanned more than 50 years until her death last year, settled at Scarlett Thicket in 1957. The historic property, a portion of which dates to an original land grant from William Penn, lent itself beautifully to horses. And with Hall of Fame trainer W. Burling Cocks living right next door, the next step was inevitable.

"Long before there was racing in Pennsylvania, Truman Welling was here," said Mark McDermott, executive secretary of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association. "Always, he has loved horses."